'Citizen of the Year'
Stuart Muller Has Deep Roots in the Palisades ...


April 07, 2005

Alyson Sena , Reporter

Citizen of the Year Stuart Muller has spent most of his life in Pacific Palisades.

He was born here in 1945 and immediately honored with a 'Most Beautiful Baby of the Year' award. He attended local schools, went to teen dances at the YMCA and roller-skated on clay wheels at the Recreation Center, which he remembers as 'Palisades Park.'

His parents, Wayne and Mary, raised all five of their children in the same house on Radcliffe, where they still live today. They moved to Radcliffe in 1955 from Fiske Street, where Muller, at age 4-1/2, used to catch the bus to Canyon School.

Muller's Aunt Ruth (Mary's sister) taught at Canyon for about 30 years, and some of her students included Randy Newman, Richard Zanuck and Norma Shearer.

'Sometimes I think my Aunt Ruth's spirit invaded me,' says Muller, a licensed marriage, family and child counselor who enjoys teaching and working with children.

His aunt came to the Palisades ahead of his mother, in the mid-1920s. She and her husband bought a home on Hartzell, near the house her grandfather had built on Galloway in 1929. They owned an awning shop in the Palisades that Muller says put up the original awnings on the Swarthmore Business Block building.

Originally from South Dakota, Muller's mother moved here in 1931 and married her high school sweetheart Wayne about a decade later at St. Augustine's in Santa Monica. At the time, the Palisades was hardly the hot spot it is today. Rather, Muller's parents were asked questions like 'Why would you live out in the sticks like that?'

Muller, the oldest of the five kids, admits 'We never had a key to our house until the Watts riots.'

As a teenager, Muller got his first job working as a gardener in the Huntington. A couple years later, in 1960, he worked after school as a printer's devil at The Palisadian, loading paper and pouring hot lead into the machines, skills he had learned in print shop class at Paul Revere.

'I worked with the Brown boys,' Muller says, referring to Charlie and Paul, who formerly owned the newspaper.

Muller was one of the first students in 'B-7' at Paul Revere the day it opened in 1955, just as he had been in the original first grade class at St. Matthew's. (Muller's parents were founders of St. Matthew's Parish Church, and his mom was chairman of the St. Matthew's Thrift Shop for almost three decades.)

He remembers going to school with the same group of kids year after year and everyone 'constantly talking about how we were going to get a Recreation Center,' he says. 'And finally we did.'

It was then that the fun began'square dancing, volleyball, roller-skating and a beauty contest with Peter Graves as a judge, as well as scrapbook making, shuffleboard and crafts''the old park stuff,' Muller says. He always felt a strong connection to the Rec Center, and years later would serve as director of the Early Childhood Program and lead special recreational programs for children.

Muller graduated from University High School in 1961, the year PaliHi opened, and went on to film school at USC, which he says was considered 'the nerd school' at that time.

'I wanted to be a feature film director,' says Muller, whose classmates included George Lucas, John Milius (who wrote 'Apocalypse Now') and Randal Kleiser (who directed 'Grease').

His film pursuits transformed into the desire to be a still photographer after he graduated in 1967 with a degree in cinema. So he set out for Spain (having studied Spanish in school), where he traveled via motorcycle around the country before settling in a small Andalusian village. Here he created a photographic portfolio of life there.

'A lot of my life has been about pictures,' says Muller, who bought a small camera in Gibraltar but later received a more sophisticated model as a wedding gift from his father.

As luck has it, Muller met a Time-Life photographer in Spain and ended up working as his assistant on two cookbooks. 'We got to eat at three-star restaurants whenever we wanted.'

Also while living in Spain, he reunited with a woman he'd grown up with in the Palisades and the two returned to the United States to marry at the Riviera Country Club in 1968. Their son, Payson, was born the following year.

Back home, Muller started working in the mailroom at Walt Disney Productions, eventually moving up to the imagineering department (or theme park division) in creative development and marketing.

'I was there before it was taken over by big companies,' says Muller, who was involved in the creation of Walt Disney World, EPCOT Center, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland.

At age 38, Muller left Disney to pursue a career in clinical psychology. 'I was interested in human crisis and turning crisis into opportunity,' he says. 'I always enjoyed working with kids, 'I find it really pleasant.'

Muller earned his master's degree from Antioch University in 1987 and interned at several mental health facilities, including Cedars-Sinai, where he got involved in early childhood education and therapeutic teaching methods.

Before receiving his state license as a marriage, family and child counselor in 1992, Muller traveled around the world for one year, backpacking through Europe and Asia. 'Those images are fresh in my mind,' says Muller, whose children Payson, 35, and Daniela, 31, are also well traveled.

Payson is a craftsman, a rock carver who recently graduated from trade school in London. Daniela is a musician pursuing modeling and acting in New York City.

Currently, Muller works at Step by Step Early Child Development Program in Santa Monica, offering in-home and in-school counseling and psychotherapy. He specializes in relationship issues and early childhood development, and works mainly with children ages 2-1/2 to 7.

When Muller's not working with children, he uses his creative energies as an area representative on the Community Council (since 1994) to lead community projects such as the beautification of the Sav-on loading dock area on Swarthmore (photo, page 1). He also formed a Car Wash Noise Committee last year that helped solve some of the noise and visual pollution problems at Palisades Gas and Wash.

'It's a good hobby,' he says about his community activism in the Palisades, which earned him a Community Council Sparkplug Award in 1998. 'It's something you can put your mind to.'

Muller will receive his Citizen of the Year Award next Thursday at the Riviera Country Club.